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History series brings to life Civil War era

October 27, 1997


Staff Writer

BOONSBORO - Dressed in Civil War-era clothing, the two children playing miniature dominoes on an overturned box at the historic Bowman House looked mighty authentic, the Silers noted as they ventured in from the rain.

But the accuracy was flawed by the day of the week, local re-enactor Penny Ridenour explained as the Boonsboro family stopped to watch the children.

On a Sunday, because it was considered the Lord's day, children wouldn't be allowed to play with dominoes, Ridenour told her captivated audience.


They'd be confined to toys with a Biblical reference, like a Noah's Ark set or Jacob's ladder, she said, pointing out examples made by her husband, toymaker Douglas W. Ridenour, who proceeded to demonstrate his stock of Civil War-era toys to the family.

"There's actually more to them than I thought. I thought it was just dolls," said Tessa Siler, watching her children and husband, William, thrill to toys children played with more than 100 years ago.

"I never saw those. They're made out of wood," said daughter Amber, 9, who said she thought the old-time toys - mostly wooden and fairly basic - would be as fun to play with as toys today.

Her brother, William, 10, agreed.

The Silers were among a trickling of people who braved the rain Sunday afternoon for the last in series of free living history programs presented by the Boonsboro Historical Society and two local re-enactor groups at the Bowman House.

In addition to learning about Civil War-era playthings, visitors were treated to the sights and smells of open-hearth cooking by historical society member Denny Warrenfeltz, a primer in home remedies by Christie Gouff of Lovettsville, Va., and tours of the lovingly restored 1800s home.

The monthly series - a joint venture between the historical society, the Charles Town Citizens and 5th Virginia Infantry, Stonewall Brigade - started in July with a toy demonstration program by Douglas Ridenour, said historical society board member Jan Wetterer.

In August, Penny Ridenour - in her alter-ego "Miss P-" - gave a talk about ladies' Civil War clothing using her doll model, Miss Shelby Elizabeth, Wetterer said.

The September program included lessons in Civil War-era music and spinning by couple Bob and Becky Basford.

Rain and illness altered the October program, Penny Ridenour said.

The finale program was set to include an encampment and military demonstrations by Stonewall Brigade members, canceled by the rain, and a re-enactment of a Civil War-era school day by real-life teacher Kristi Cromwell, who couldn't come because her daughter was ill, Ridenour said.

There was still plenty to impress Debbie Martin Kistler, of St. James, who said she was drawn to the event after reading about it in the newspaper.

"I love it. I crave this era in history. I like to go to anything that brings me back to the era. I'd truly like to live in it," said Kistler, who said she sits in Civil War battlefields for inspiration for her painting and drawing.

It was no problem getting son Paul Kistler, 18, to accompany her, she said.

"I usually don't have to drag him to things like this. He likes to come," Kistler said.

The series proved a good way to bring the public in to the Bowman House on a regular basis, a goal the historical society has had for years, Wetterer said.

Based on how well things went this year, Wetterer said she expects the series will be repeated and extended next year.

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